Party Wall, Boundary and Right to Light Disputes
Party Wall Disputes
The Party Wall Act 1996 is the statutory framework for England and Wales. The Act governs how neighbours who share adjoining boundaries need to address various rights and responsibilities when one party decides to undertake works to their property, and which is likely to affect the other.
It means, therefore, that any property owner who wants to undertake building works, repairs and maintenance or excavations will need to give any affected adjoining neighbours notice of those works. The Act creates some limited exceptions whereby the adjoining owner can give prior written consent before any notices are served.
Certain types of building works trigger a mandatory requirement to serve notices (i.e. where prior consent cannot be given) and, once a notice is served the adjoining owner can respond in a number of ways.
In the event a dispute (or deemed dispute) arises between the parties, then the Act provides a dispute resolution mechanism whereby a surveyor (or surveyors) is/are appointed, and an Award is made which will set out the scope, timing and access rights of any works which are to take place.
Any costs of building works are normally paid for by the building owner as it will be they who will most likely benefit from any building works which take place.
If one party is unhappy with the Award then they can appeal to the County Court.
Historically boundary disputes between neighbours have proved to be extremely difficult to resolve without recourse to the Courts. Most problems tend to stem from a toxic mix of neighbours who are not on speaking terms, fighting over insignificant strips of land in the overall context of the size of both parties’ properties, incurring significant legal costs which usually far outweigh the value of the land being disputed.
Things may be about to change however. The Property Boundaries (Resolution of Dispute) Bill 2016 is currently at committee stage, and if enacted in its current form, it will seek to emulate dispute resolution in the same way that the Party Wall Act 1996 does for party wall disputes.
Right to Light
A right to light is an easement which allows someone to benefit from natural light which passes through a neighbour’s land.
This type of easement can be acquired either by an express or implied grant, by statute or by common law. Typically, however, such a right is likely to be acquired under the Prescription Act 1832.
There are a number of ways a claim to a right of light may be defeated, and for properties situated in the City of London other special rules are relevant.